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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 02-Apr-10


Friday 02-April-10

Like father, like son

Are children like their parents? Well my children, now in their 20s, both have exclaimed 'Oh my God, I'm turning into my parents!' And I am very happy to be likened to my father, who was a real gentleman, and he in turn was like my grandfather.

Behavioral genetics is gradually showing how we inherit various personality factors. The most well-known and proven of these is intelligence (bright people usually have bright kids) but now many more factors are being discovered, such as sociability. The detail is also becoming better understood, for example if you inherit a decreased number of dopamine receptors in the brain you are more likely to be introverted than a more excitable extravert, whose extra receptors leads to greater dopamine drive.

There is also of course the 'nurture' side of what we learn from our parents. What we learn of course depends on the attention we get and there are several factors that affect this.

An interesting study by Marianne Heijkoop and colleagues in Holland showed a curious tendency of fathers to spend more time with children who looked like them. Why? A suggested answer is based in evolution: whilst a mother clearly knows a child is hers, a father cannot always be sure. The simplest check for him is visual appearance. If my son looks like me then well and good, but if he looks completely different, then perhaps my wife has been 'playing away'. So a simple heuristic for propagating my genes is to favour sons who are clearly mine. A similar strategy applies to daughters, though gender difference may make the task more difficult.

A lesson for modern fathers is to watch out for this trap and ensure you spread your time fairly between your children. My kids are now grown and I do not regret one moment I spent with them when they were younger.

Marianne Heijkoop, Judith Semon Dubas, Marcel van Aken (2009). Parent-child resemblance and kin investment: Physical resemblance or personality similarity? European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 6 (1), 64-69

Your comments

It is so important to monitor your behavior when parenting because children often learn what they live. Unfortunately, children mostly pick up the bad things faster than the good. Parents should always be mindful of the actions, filter their words, and demonstrate positive attitudes when in the presence of their children. Always validate your children and reward consistently reward them for good behavioral. Although it is common that children will grow up and find themselves with some of their parents negative traits, however, just as those negative traits are learned, they can be unlearned.

-- ataylor

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